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Traumatic brain injury

What is traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) or head injury occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain.

A person with a mild TBI may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Other symptoms of mild TBI include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes and trouble with memory, concentration, attention or thinking.

A person with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms but may also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination and increased confusion, restlessness or agitation.

Is there any treatment?

Anyone with signs of moderate or severe TBI should receive medical attention as soon as possible. Because little can be done to reverse the initial brain damage caused by trauma, medical personnel try to stabilize an individual with TBI and focus on preventing further injury. Primary concerns include insuring proper oxygen supply to the brain and the rest of the body, maintaining adequate blood flow and controlling blood pressure. Moderately- to severely-injured patients receive rehabilitation involving individually-tailored treatment programs in the areas of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, physiatry (physical medicine), psychology/psychiatry and social support.

What is the prognosis?

Approximately half of severely head-injured patients will need surgery to remove or repair hematomas (ruptured blood vessels) or contusions (bruised brain tissue). Disabilities resulting from a TBI depend upon the severity of the injury, the location of the injury and the individual’s age and general health. Some common disabilities include problems with cognition (thinking, memory and reasoning), sensory processing (sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell), communication (expression and understanding) and behavior or mental health (depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, ‘acting out’ and social inappropriateness).